Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Out with the Old, In with the New

Another year has flown by, and the next one is waiting in the wings. At this time of year I like to rewind and review the days gone by, even as I set my sights on the future. Now looking back doesn't mean just 2015; rather, I go clear back to my childhood and survey the trajectory of my life. I find it's a good time to take stock of where I'm at on this terrestrial hike and consider where it will all end up.

My wife thinks I'm morbidly obsessed with death. Of course, she's the one who repeatedly told me she'd be dead by 30, then 40, now 50. But you can't be a pastor, sitting at the bedsides of dying members and preaching scores of funeral sermons, without thinking of your own inevitable demise. That's what Psalm 90:12 is about where Moses prays, "Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."

I'm in my sixth decade on earth and hoping I have another two, three or four to go. But wherever you may be along life's timeline, it's not a bad idea to stop each New Year, stand back, and look at the flow of your life. Hopefully, doing so, will give us a greater sense of purpose -- where we waste less time and make the most out of the stream of hours God gives us here.

It's also a good time to look at the end before us -- the eternal future that will mark our lives with God in paradise, won for us by Jesus who took our place through His innocent suffering and death. Because He is risen, we will rise to live forever. No, looking at our life and death is not morbid -- not as long as we don't forget the resurrection to come.

Moses ends Psalm 90 with a wonderful plea in verse 17: "Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the works of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!" Remind us, Lord, why we are here. Let us busy ourselves with work that really impacts this world -- through our families, our vocations, and our faith-sharing. Let the compassion of our speech and the impact of our Christ-centered attitude resound in this world, long after we are gone, through our children, and the people we have met along the way.

Prayer for the New Year: Lord God, You have called Your servants to ventures where we cannot see the ending, by paths yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go with good courage, remembering always it is Your hand that leads us and Your love that supports us, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The New Year is always a good time for fresh beginnings -- or a reestablished commitment to groundwork put down in the year just finished.

Where are you as you "ring out the old" and "ring in the new"?

You can share your thoughts on the Men's NetWork blog by clicking here and telling us your plans for the days ahead.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Magic of Christmas

A hundred candles flicker in our darkened church as we join to sing "Silent Night" in four-part harmony. Between the fire marshal and the church's insurance company, those magical moments have all but disappeared. But I can still recollect vintage Christmas magic. It takes me back to the smell of candle wax and the urge to pitch the burning taper from my hand once the wax ran down onto my fingers.

Back then, a lot of the Christmas magic was centered in Santa Claus, his eight reindeer (or nine in case of inclement weather), and his magical sleigh. Then I grew a little older and found the thrill, wonder and ecstasy of Christmas hiding beneath bright, shiny wrapping paper. Of course, there was the inevitable disappointment of finding clothes inside, but by high school age I didn't quite mind that as much. I figured maybe the new duds might even help me turn some special eyes when school started again.

In time I found the magic that kids experience left Christmas, especially when my older brothers moved out, got married, and spent some of the holidays with their in-laws, instead of us. Eventually, it was time for me to leave home too, and since dad left us for his eternal home earlier that year, it wasn't the same when I came home for Christmas. That empty spot never did leave.

But then God brought a special woman into my life, and we made a life together. Christmas came with new wonder all over again. Then our son came along, our own little baby through whose eyes we could relive the wonders anew.

Then the cycle repeated itself. The magic of Santa relived, the thrill of the presents and, finally, the disillusionment when he grew old enough to understand it for himself.

But there is one place the magic never really left. That was at church where the ancient carols from centuries ago, the gigantic Christmas trees, the roping, ribbons, lights, wreaths and candles are still in full swing. And then there are those fleeting moments during the reading of the Christmas story when I'm sitting on the Judean hillside, along with the shepherds, listening to the angel's message. And all this preceding the rush to go and find the Christ Child wrapped in swaddling clothes, resting in the manger.

Thinking ahead to future Christmases I know there will be highs and lows. There will be a first Christmas when our son brings his wife (Lord willing) and then later, their grandchildren. And, of course, as age marches on, and friends and family cross the Jordan, and when even my own body weakens and fails with age, I pray that Christmas will never lose its luster.

Never, that is, until twilight sets in, and it's my turn to cross over to where mom and dad are now. That's when the true "magic" of Christmas will finally become clear and unmistakable. I'll stand with Mary and Joseph, with the shepherds and wise men, listening to the song of the angels, gazing on the beauty of God's Son: that eternal Christmas in heaven.

Now there's the real magic of Christmas.

It's only three days away now. Have you considered what this most holy day means for you -- your family -- the world around you?

Share your thoughts by clicking here.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Saving the Earth

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference met in France and came up with something called the Paris Agreement. It is a global statement of intention made by 196 nations concerning the need to address climate change. This is a big issue with strong arguments on both sides, and I will be the first to admit I'm not informed enough to know what, if anything, should be done.

I have heard that climate change is cyclical. Every so many decades or centuries or millennia the world warms up, and then cools down again for another spell. These days human activity seems to be aggravating the situation -- most noticeably through fossil fuel emissions from our cars and industries. This, of course, extends to the roving army of strident activists and politicians jetting all over the globe, urgently warning us of our expanding carbon footprint, not to mention (but I will anyway) the no-small matter of bovine emissions (I think they call them "cow farts").

I don't know how much climate change is due to human actions, or even if climate change is a bad thing -- or all that unnatural -- for that matter. I remember sitting in an undergraduate geography class back in the 80s. The professor showed us a map of Eastern Europe, specifically the Soviet Union. He mentioned how one of that nation's greatest challenges was that the bulk of its landmass was too far north, too cold to be farmable. So its breadbasket was a small region in the south. Now I wondered if that information is still correct. Couldn't it be that parts of the world would actually benefit from a little warming?

The biosphere of the earth, sea and sky is incredibly complex. And I'm not sure our brightest minds are able to accurately gauge the impact our human interactions have on the whole thing. It seems to me a lot of people are running around believing the earth is a closed system with no outside interaction. Consequently, they think that unless we make changes, those changes will never be made. There is no other intelligence overseeing, guarding or protecting our biosphere.

All I can say is that I believe God created the heavens and the earth. And in so doing, I believe He didn't just sit back on the seventh day and say, "My work here is finished. I'll leave it to run itself." No, rather, I believe He holds it all together, even though our sin and short-sightedness have greatly damaged our environment as well as our fellow human and nonhuman creatures living here with us. God gives humanity the responsibility and authority to oversee this planet, and that's for better or worse. But this doesn't mean He isn't actively controlling it, working either miraculously or through the mechanisms He has placed within the biosphere to help clean up our oil spills, or to compensate for increased greenhouse gases.

We have one earthly life to live. As such we owe it to God -- and each other -- to learn as much as we can about protecting our environment, so we don't make matters worse. But we can't forget that God is the Creator and the Sustainer of this creation. At the same time, we need to remember the best we can do is put a bandage on a badly hurt creation. The natural world around us will continue to be subjected to frustration (see Romans 8) and will groan in the pangs of child-birth until Jesus' return. Then, without our agreements, scientists, and global initiatives, Jesus will completely and perfectly restore this biosphere where we will live in glorified bodies, forever enjoying His perfect heavens and earth, dwelling in absolute harmony and delight with Him, with each other, and with His whole creation.

Sound too good to be true?

You can share your thoughts by clicking here and telling us about them.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Getting in the Spirit

This year I've been finding it hard to get into the spirit of Christmas. It seems like it's just too early -- or maybe there's so much yet that needs to get done before I can get into that holiday feeling.

That all changed this past weekend, however. My wife and I drove up to visit our son at Concordia University in Chicago. He sang bass in its annual Service of Lessons and Carols. We went to two of the three services: Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. (If not for work on Monday morning, I think we would have stayed for the third service on Sunday night.)

The music was exquisite, which was my focus during the first service. And the leap in musicianship and ability from high school to college was impressive. Four different choirs, pipe organ, hand bells, and a chamber orchestra presented amazing music.

The second time through I was drawn into the Christmas story, as it unfolded in the service. There were a total of nine readings taken from the Old and New Testaments. Each was followed by an anthem or carol. These gave the audience a chance to dwell on the promises of God, contemplating how He stepped into human history in the person of His Son to fulfill them.

One piece that struck me was sung in German. It began with the four voices singing Isaiah 9:6, "To us a Child is born, to us a Son is given." Then while the lower three voices continued on, repeating this Scripture, the sopranos soared into a German stanza from Luther's incredible hymn "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come," with this line: "To you this night is born a Child, of Mary, chosen mother mild, This little Child, of lowly birth, shall be the joy of all your earth." Hearing it sung in the words of Luther impressed me. I remembered we are all part of this magnificent body of Christ, celebrating together throughout time and eternity.

Another was an extremely sweeping and powerful piece called "Bogoroditse Devo." It was sung in Church Slavonic: "Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos (God-bearer). Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the Fruit of your womb, for you have borne the Savior of our souls."

At the end we sang "O Come, All Ye Faithful." As the sopranos burst into the famous descant on the final stanza, the combined choirs of Concordia filed out into the aisles and encircled the congregation. As they lit the candles, the house lights dimmed. We were soon surrounded by their white robes and angelic faces, singing the hauntingly beautiful "Noel" by Carl Schalk. I felt like I was sitting among the shepherds in the Judean hillside at night, surrounded by the angel choirs. I didn't want it to end.

Music is truly one of God's remarkable gifts. It draws our hearts and emotions into the text or, it could be said, draws the text into our hearts and emotions. I encourage you to take time during your busy preparations to immerse yourself in the hymns, songs, carols and anthems of the Christmas season at your church. If available, attend a special Christmas concert and let God unfold the birth of His Son -- the marvel of His love -- and the incredible mercy that caused Jesus to leave His throne and become one of us.

How has Christmas music been a part of your holiday celebrations over the years? Are you an avid listener to the beautiful melodies of this wonderful time of the year? Do you like to sing? Do you play an instrument? When was the last time you and a few others went caroling through a neighborhood?

You can share your thoughts by clicking here and telling us about them.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Taking Back Christmas

In my childhood back in the 60s, there was always a tension between the sacred and secular sides of Christmas -- between Baby Jesus in the manger and Santa Claus in his red sleigh. My family celebrated both, but we kept them distinct from each other. Christmas Eve was for Jesus, Christmas Day for Santa. Christmas Eve was all about standing in church singing the classics: "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Away in a Manger." I can still smell the candle wax and feel the flickering warmth of the flame on my face as we sang "Silent Night" in the darkened church.

Santa left Christmas Eve to Jesus. He waited until midnight to come down our chimney. Then first thing Christmas morning we opened our packages and started playing until it was time to get dressed for church. Mom insisted on separating Baby Jesus from Santa. I still remember a brief trend where some Christians tried to bring the two together by displaying manger scenes in their front yards with Santa kneeling beside the manger. Mom was totally incensed.

Back then, in my child's mind, I must admit Santa was always bigger than Baby Jesus. Christmas carols and the Christmas story were neat, but they couldn't compete with the presents under the tree -- or the great elf that brought them. But ever since I've grown up, I've struggled to take Christmas back for Baby Jesus.

So I put a magnetic manger scene on my car that reads "Jesus is the Reason for the Season." I smile at bumper stickers that say "Put 'Christ' Back in 'Christmas.'" When greeted in the stores with "Happy Holidays," I am careful to respond with "Merry Christmas!"

But I think it's time we go beyond words, bumper stickers, and what we name the holidays. I want to take back the heart and spirit of Christmas for Baby Jesus. And I want to begin with that favorite activity of men everywhere: Christmas shopping.

Like many men, my attitude toward Christmas came from shopping with my dad. He was one of those guys who let mom do all the Christmas shopping, waiting until Christmas Eve to get the only present she wouldn't: hers. He took the day off, then dragged along all five of us boys. I remember observing that among all those last-minute shoppers there wasn't a woman to be found. It was all frazzled men, dashing through the aisles, frantically searching the picked-over shelves, trying to find a present that told their wives, "See, I put a lot of thought into this present and didn't wait until the last minute to buy it!" (Only later did I realize dad actually had thought this out carefully, and he wasn't procrastinating. He took us out of the house so the big Christmas Eve deliveries could be made to our house: the ping-pong table one year, the console TV another, the pool table a third.)

But I digress ....

My point is this: let's start putting some careful planning into our Christmas buying. Let's be more like our Heavenly Father. He so deeply valued His lost children that He made careful arrangements to send His Son to be born in Bethlehem as our Savior.

And let's reflect something of the love of the Christ Child too. He didn't push His way into the best house, or insist on the finest of cribs. He was content to be born in a lowly animal shelter, and laid in a humble manger. Like Him, we can yield to others when that spot opens in the mall parking lot. We can be mindful of His compassion for others when walking through crowded aisles, and when we're waiting in long lines at checkout time. We can patiently wait our turn with a smile on our faces, loving the preoccupied, pushy strangers who surround us -- the same way the Christ Child loved us and came into a world of selfish, preoccupied people to bring His great salvation.

It seems every year Christmas gets a little more blurry in respect to what people really think about it.

What ideas do you have to take this Christmas back for the Christ Child? You can click here and tell us about them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

From "Turkey Day" to an "Attitude of Gratitude"

It's been interesting to trace popular thinking over the last few years about this week's national holiday. Growing up in the 60s and 70s we called it "Thanksgiving Day." A few decades later I heard radio and television announcers calling it "Turkey Day." Clearly, we had switched to focusing on possessions instead of the Giver of those possessions. This year I've heard a lot of people talking about trying to cultivate an "attitude of gratitude," regarding the holiday.

So to do this, families will gather around the table on Thursday, reciting things for which they are grateful. Others will take it a step further. In the days leading up to Thursday, they will write down these things and incorporate them into the place-settings, name cards, or table decorations they use.

I think this is a whole lot better than good old "Turkey Day." At least, we're being encouraged to give it some thought so as not to simply take our material blessings for granted. But we're still missing something here, aren't we?

It still isn't thanksgiving.

First, there isn't any giving to it. We're not offering gratitude to the One who truly deserves it for providing all the material blessings we so richly enjoy. Nor is there really any thanks because this kind of appreciation is still turned inward, focusing on my heart, my mind, and my attitude toward the people and things that are part of my life.

It reminds me of the thank-you cards my mom had my brothers and me write to grandma and my uncles and aunts who sent us presents. She wasn't teaching us to turn inside ourselves to cultivate a feeling of appreciation and gratitude. Rather, she wanted us to turn our thoughts -- our attitudes -- outside ourselves to focus on those who loved us enough to sacrifice their time, effort and money to give us the gifts we enjoyed. Yes, that even went for those socks grandma carefully wrapped for us each Christmas! The gratitude flowed from the recognition of her love -- not by focusing on the happy feelings I had inside.

So this Thanksgiving I pray we will all do just that: give God thanks for the blessings He so richly showers upon us. This thankfulness is most certainly due Him for the gift of His Son Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus that our salvation and eternal reward come to us. It is by Him coming into this world as the God-Man, living among us, laying down His life on the cross, and then taking it up again in His resurrection.

It is the grand story we will begin reliving once again this coming Sunday as we celebrate the First Sunday in Advent.

As we take time this week to thank God for all He has done, be sure to pause and consider the ways He blesses your life. If you're so inclined, after you rise from your turkey and stuffing coma, click here and tell us what you're thankful for this year.

A Blessed and thanks-giving-filled Thanksgiving to you all!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Time for Urgent Prayer

Listening to the breaking news of the terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday was very troubling. I felt like we were right back on September 11, 2001. I felt helpless watching the stories pour in as events unfolded, especially the news about the hundreds of terrified people trapped in the concert hall. This whole ordeal was made doubly sad as it compounded the news of the day before when two suicide bombers had taken more than 40 lives in a neighborhood in Beirut, Lebanon.

Here I was, half way around the world. What could I do?

That's where God's promise kicks in: "The prayer of a righteous man has great power as it is working" (James 5:16b). This is a time that desperately needs our urgent prayers just like Jesus pouring out His heart to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane.

What should I pray? First, these attacks remind us that our time is short.

Lord, make me realize and remember how brief and precious life is. Teach me to be intentional, to make the most of every minute You grant me with the precious people You have brought into my life. I don't know when their or my time will end. How many hours do I waste alongside those who mean so much to me! No, I'm not expecting us to be separated by a terrorist attack -- the odds are greater of being killed by a meteorite strike -- but these attacks remind me how quickly my loved ones can be snatched away by traffic accidents, heart attacks, strokes, or crime. Make me ever watchful for those opportunities You give me to share my faith, my love, my heart.

Next, I'm reminded of the political leaders God has put in place to protect us from such murderous actions.

Heavenly Father, give wisdom to the leaders of our nation and every nation that deals with this threat. Give them the clarity and courage to put the welfare of their people above all things. Guide the policies they develop in relation to ISIS, to the peoples of the Middle East and, especially, concerning the refugees from Syria and Iraq and neighboring countries, which include Christian brothers and sisters who have been driven from their homes.

Closely connected is the need to pray for all public servants who protect us.

Heavenly Father, You have set governments in place to curb the outbursts of violence and evil in our world. Bless all those public servants who put themselves in harm's way to protect us. Give them diligence and vigilance in their service, and true integrity toward all the citizens they protect. Bless all agencies that gather intelligence, that they might uncover and successfully thwart these murderous attacks.

Then, there are the terrorists.

Gracious Heavenly Father, in the acts of these terrorists we have seen Satan personified. Their pitiless slaughter of innocent people gives us a glimpse into Satan's black, bitter heart, his utter callousness toward all that is good. Remind us that we do not battle against flesh and blood, but against spiritual enemies in the heavenly places. As Your Son Jesus mortally wounded Satan and his fallen angels in His suffering, death and resurrection, give us victory over them as well, as we flee to our Savior for refuge from his seething hatred. Bless all Christian leaders, missionaries, pastors, church workers, and all our Christian brothers and sisters so that we may renounce his works and his ways -- especially his subtle and attractive vices, which are so seductive to us.

But we also must pray for wisdom to distinguish between Satan and the terrorists he is using.

Holy Father, remind us that even though Satan and his angels are beyond redemption and repentance, these humans are not. Until their death, they are not beyond the reach of Your grace in Jesus Christ, who carried their sins to the cross. Bring them to conversion, repentance and salvation --that these deadly enemies may become our brothers -- just as You converted Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus and made him a strong defender of the faith.

To bring about their conversion, we need to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters living in danger in their lands.

Heavenly Father, richly bless our Christian brothers and sisters who are standing firm, and sharing their faith in the Middle East and in all parts of the world where radical Islam subverts and corrupts. Grant that their witness through sufferings, threats, and even the pain of death, may bear fruit. Let the blood of all Your martyrs water the seed of the Gospel that Your Holy Spirit would work faith in the hearts of many Muslims.

Finally, pray that God would work through us to reach those Muslims who live in our nation and in our communities.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your great love for all people. Grant us true love for the Muslims You have brought into our nation and into our communities. Give us grace to treat them with kindness and dignity, that in us they may see Your love. Give us wisdom and compassion to share with them the freedom Christ Jesus has won for all. In the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The depth of man's depravity toward another seems to have no limits at times. In the face of villainy like Friday night's heinous rampage in Paris or the suicide bombings the day before in Beirut, Lebanon, it's easy to lose sight of the cross and what Jesus' death -- and resurrection -- stand for: total victory, freedom, peace, and the forgiveness of our sins.

As Christians, what can we do to address the darkness in this world? Share your thoughts by clicking here and telling us about it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Finite Sins?

Over the last two weeks we've looked at how to respond when someone denies the Bible's teaching about hell -- and why it's important to make the effort to defend that teaching. The last objection I want to consider today is the notion that our sins are finite -- and thus it would be unfair and unjust of God to inflict the infinite punishment of eternal suffering in hell for our finite sins.

Why is this important? Because if we buy this argument that our sins are finite, then Jesus' sufferings on the cross were totally unjustified -- and God the Father would be guilty of divine Child abuse. (At least that's what some hell-deniers argue to get us doubting what the Bible clearly teaches about hell).

I'll be the first to admit I would like to think my sins are finite, you know, minor things that impact no one but myself. The problem is no such sin exists. Each and every disobedience against God's Law sends ripples throughout creation. Of course, bigger sins like mass murders or the Nazi Holocaust send much larger waves that devastate many lives, but even our smallest sins and white lies send ripples of one sort or the other.

It is amazing how one careless comment can shatter one person's confidence, embolden another to sin, and severely damage an important relationship with someone else -- all at one fell swoop. Or consider how our rudeness or impatience at a restaurant can darken our server's mood, who then turns around and takes it out on other customers, staff, and family when they get home. Then those people have their moods darkened, and the ripples keep spreading.

Now, to be sure, sometimes we do nothing wrong, and people still take offense. That's not a sin on our part. We've been talking the last three weeks about people who are offended by what God has revealed about hell. That surely doesn't mean God was in the wrong for offending them.

The point is there is no such thing as a finite sin. One of the responses to our blog from two weeks ago said it extremely well:

"Every transgression has unintended and uncontrollable (eternal) consequences. Each transgression is like a domino. There is nothing that can stop the momentum of dominoes falling, nor the negative effects of sin in the world. Transgressions have infinite consequences; only someone who is just and sovereign can control the consequences of sin. Hell only exists because of rebellion against the Creator of everything."

And that brings me around to why we would want to talk about hell in the first place. We talk about hell so we can talk about God's solution to it. He didn't just abandon us to our well-deserved eternal fate. He gave His Son to pay that penalty in our place. When I consider Jesus' agony in the garden, the details of His suffering at the hands of the Jews and the Roman soldiers, and His crucifixion, I start to glimpse the mountain of sins I have committed. And when I multiply my sins by each person who has ever lived or will ever live, I see the incredible love and grace of Jesus who selflessly took that punishment upon Himself to set us all free.

As we approach another Thanksgiving, we can certainly cultivate a spirit of gratitude for all the material blessings we enjoy. That being said, I can't think of any other gift of God more deserving of our thanks and praise than His full and free forgiveness of our sins for Jesus' sake.

Our forgiveness is so utterly undeserved, we can scarcely take it in. After all, why would God care? Why not bring an end to humanity and be done with it? Thank heavens His ways are not our ways.

What about hell and God's offer of forgiveness to us? Any thoughts? If so, you can share them by clicking here and telling us about it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Defending Hell to Share the Gospel

Last week I mentioned a pagan blog that used three arguments to dismiss the idea of hell:

1. Power-hungry religious leaders invented hell to control their followers through fear.

2. Hell wouldn't be just because it is infinite punishment for finite transgressions.

3. Hell wouldn't be right because it is punishment based upon the violation of arbitrary rules.

We received some great responses from blog readers. Some of these I'd like to bring to the forefront in the coming weeks as we talk about how to reply to these challenges.

This first response counters the accusation that hell was invented by power-hungry religious leaders.

"Faithful religious leaders have nothing to gain by inventing a punishing state of existence for those who deny God's grace and mercy. Those who reject Jesus as their Savior live without any hope, and we see the real-world consequences when people live without any sense of sure and certain hope outside of themselves. If there is no hell, why do people keep referring to it?"

I agree. When I look at the sheer scope of hell which the Scriptures -- and Jesus Himself -- describe I can't imagine even power-hungry religious leaders coming up with something that expansive, that horrific. If the notion of purgatory -- a limited duration of suffering -- was enough to sell indulgences in Martin Luther's day, there was no need to invent never-ending suffering if it was just a way to raise money and increase the power of the clergy.

On the other hand, if teachings about hell come directly from the God who created it as a place of punishment for the angels who rebelled, then religious leaders preach about hell because they genuinely care about the people to whom they are speaking; they want to teach them how we can all escape that dire punishment through God's free gift of forgiveness for Jesus' sake.

But the last sentence of the comment really jumped out at me: "If there is no hell, why do people keep referring to it?" Why do people feel compelled to construct arguments to invalidate something in which they don't believe? Can it be that the law of God is written in their hearts, the truth is ringing in their ears, and these arguments are their attempts to silence it?

Now think of the people around you: your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers who are living without a proper fear of the holiness and justice of our Holy Creator. There is only one reason to discuss God's wrath and hell with them, and that is to establish their need for a Savior. Once this is done, you can share the Good News of God's Son, Jesus Christ, who became human and paid that penalty in their place. And be sure to remind them that you too were under that same sentence until Jesus set you free.

Hell. Everybody's got an opinion about it.

What's yours?

You can share your thoughts on the Men's NetWork blog by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hell under Attack

Well, hell isn't under attack. It's the Bible's teachings about hell that are under attack. I came across the following comment on an October 15, 2015, pagan blog on death and the afterlife:

"It is, I think, the threat of Hell more than the promise of Heaven that creates anxiety among Abrahamic monotheists. It's tempting to see this as an effort by power-hungry religious leaders to control their followers through fear. Certainly that's a big part of the emphasis on Hell by conservative Christians and Muslims (if Jews threaten anyone with Hell, I've never heard it). But I categorically reject the idea of infinite punishment for finite transgressions against arbitrary rules."

Without a judgment or hell to worry about, he is really rosy about his future afterlife. He wrote about knowledge he has from past lives on earth; he is confident he will enjoy a time of rest with the gods after this life, then return for another life on earth where he will again rejoin the web of life and try to make the world a better place to live.

Before you start thinking these are only pagan arguments -- and you don't know any pagans -- these arguments to reason away the threat of hell are held by many former Christians as well as unbelievers, in our country. They fit well with our society's rejection of absolute truth and its acceptance of all kinds of different lifestyle choices.

This line of thinking includes at least three arguments:

1. Power-hungry religious leaders invented hell to control their followers through fear.

2. Hell wouldn't be just because it is infinite punishment for finite transgressions.

3. Hell wouldn't be right because it is punishment based upon the violation of arbitrary rules.

One way to deal with these arguments would be to ignore them. After all, isn't it more important to focus on God's love and heaven? Why do we have to bring up sin and judgment, death and hell? If you have a brother or sister, son or daughter, co-worker or neighbor who believes this way, wouldn't it be better to just let the topic alone and love them to death with the Good News of God's love? Wouldn't you just be driving them away by talking about sins?

As this pagan blog goes on, it exposes the danger lurking beneath this argument. Since the writer is convinced there is no hell, then the cross becomes utter foolishness. He even goes so far as describing Jesus' suffering and death on the cross as the worst case of divine child abuse.

In the blog in the coming weeks I'd like to work through each of these three lines of reasoning. But first, I'd like to give you the chance to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

What would you say to someone who gave you these three reasons as to why he rejects hell?

Is it really sharing the Gospel if you exclude Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection as our Substitute and Savior?

You can share your thoughts by clicking here and telling us about it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Helicopter Parents

Parenting is tough. It seems each generation of children is asked to grow up faster than the one before. Our kids face so many more options and temptations than we ever did. And there's always plenty of advice from parents, in-laws, and friends for kids nowadays too -- as well as plenty of criticism when they aren't quite doing it right either.

But I'm not here to give advice or criticism -- just to offer some perspective. My one and only child is now half way through the first semester of his freshman year at college. From everything I can tell, he is absolutely thriving there, and we praise God.

Looking back on the last couple of months, I'd have to say the thing that really surprises me is how quickly he grew up -- or maybe I should say, how quickly he had to grow up. Just last year we had access to his grades, and we talked to him every night. He didn't have to worry about laundry, or food, or getting himself to school. Now it's all on him. He's got a lot of decisions to make, and it's up to him to make those decisions. We even have to rely on him to tell us how he's doing academically, if he chooses to, that is.

Over the last decade Julie Lythcott-Haims, dean of freshmen at Stanford University, noticed more and more young men and women are having trouble adjusting to college. They aren't used to taking care of themselves, making their own decisions, dealing with the challenges of life. She says the problem is their helicopter parents. They constantly hover and swoop in to personally intervene every time their child faces a difficulty.

So I would encourage all the parents of younger children to step back from time to time and consider how you are helping your children prepare for that day when you will drop them off at college, or move them into that first apartment. Are you giving them the responsibilities, the freedom, the choices, and the opportunity to learn how to make decisions for themselves? Will they know how to deal with a roommate who keeps totally different hours than they do? Will they have the confidence to make necessary alterations in their class schedule? Will they be able to sidestep peer pressure and prodding to engage in questionable activities?

But there's something far more important than even these issues: their spiritual preparation. Sometimes we are so busy running them to practice and games -- or even preparing them for college and career -- that we neglect to impress on them the importance of their faith -- of staying connected to their Creator and Savior. Are you demonstrating that for them? They clearly see how important (or unimportant) your faith is to you. And they're bound to take their lead from your actions.

You're concerned about their earthly life and getting them off on the right foot, and that's the way it should be. But how much more important is their eternal destiny in heaven or hell?

Nobody said saying goodbye (for a time) to a son or daughter was going to be easy. But that doesn't mean the separation should spell calamity for him or her once they've set out on their own.

How was it when your kids left the nest to go their own way? Was there much difficulty with their newfound freedom? Did it get easier for you with successive kids leaving home? Is there anything you wish you would have known (been privy to) when you had them at home, which you discovered only later?

Tell us how things went for your kid(s) when they made their exodus. How did things go for you? You can click here and tell us about it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Last Message from El Faro

On Thursday, October 1, Danielle Randolph, a crew member of the American container ship El Faro sent a message to her mother: "Not sure if you're following the weather at all, but there is a hurricane out here and we are heading straight into it. Winds are super bad and seas are not great. Love to everyone."

Shortly after, the 790-ft. cargo ship radioed it had lost power, then disappeared in Hurricane Joaquin -- a category 4 storm -- the kind you don't want to head into aboard a top-heavy cargo ship. After several days all Coast Guard searchers found was an oil slick, a life ring, and part of a battered lifeboat, along with one dead body in a survival suit. After a fruitless week, the Coast Guard called off its search for survivors.

I imagine over the centuries many ships were lost in hurricanes that way. They headed out from port having no clue that a monster storm was heading their way. But the El Faro captain and crew had weather satellites and hurricane hunters who fly airplanes into storms. What could have made them ignore the threat and leave port, especially when forecasts of the storm's track were all over the place, and none of the experts had a certainty where it was heading?

But waiting it out in port is tough -- for sailors -- and for you and me. Our teenage years are some of the worst for having to sit back and wait while our selfish desires for instant pleasure blaze away inside. And then going off to college is another dangerous time. That newfound freedom tempts us to throw caution to the wind and indulge in some reckless behavior and questionable decision-making.

My brothers and I hit those ages with our parents' warnings ringing in our ears. But often we had to test the waters for ourselves rather than take their word for it. Some of our friends made decisions that have affected their lives negatively ever since. A few aren't here anymore.

Now I'm older and wiser ... supposedly. Time and experience have taught me patience and the value of self-control. But there are still times I don't heed the warning signs. There are times I take risky chances I shouldn't. Our impatience and hunger for instant gratification can get us into deep trouble when we ignore the storm warnings God gives us.

I'm thinking of the Ten Commandments. Each one shines a bright spotlight on a dangerous threat to our eternal salvation. They warn us about desires and decisions that can shipwreck our faith. But sometimes those teachings seem so archaic, so distant, so irrelevant. Sometimes I just get an itch to set out from the dock and feel the exhilaration of the wind and the waves.

That's why Proverbs is one of my favorite books in the Old Testament. From chapter one on, God repeatedly calls me "My son," then goes on to clearly spell out the deadly perils that go with blindly following our desires, even as He vividly unfolds the rich quality of life that is ours when we trust His loving wisdom and follow His course for our lives. When I read it, the Holy Spirit puts my life back into perspective, and restores my appreciation for the great life our Father has given me here on earth, and the glorious, thrilling future that waits for us with Him in heaven.

Waiting for God's timing in life is tough, but it's always worth the wait.

Which Bible books or passages do you find most helpful for avoiding the deadly storms of temptation?

Are there words of wisdom -- Scriptural or otherwise -- you can share that have made a difference in your life? If so, click here and let us in on your secret.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


He had only the best intentions when he went behind his daughter's back regarding his grandchildren. But his son-in-law didn't take too kindly to his interference. Now he isn't welcome in their home. For the time being his daughter still answers his phone calls. He apologizes every time, but she says they can't trust him. He's walking on egg shells -- afraid he'll say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, look the wrong way, and the separation will become permanent, and he'll never see his grandchildren again.

He asked if I had any ideas. I gave some advice on how to slowly rebuild their trust. I told him to be careful what he said and how he acted the next time they spoke. Then he asked if I thought there was a chance the estrangement wouldn't end. From my experience I had to tell him there are times it doesn't. His face was downcast when he muttered, "I feel so helpless. There's nothing I can do."

I tried to help him step back and look at the bigger picture. I reminded him God is at work, trying to bring them back together. And even if his worst fears are realized, even if they never reconnect in this life, he can take comfort that God will bring perfect reconciliation between believers when life is over and we are together in heaven. With all barriers removed, we will live in perfect harmony and joy forever. I reminded him too that God is bringing people into their lives to bring them to faith.

Then he floored me: "I don't believe in God and all those things you are talking about. God had nothing to do with this. It was my fault, and I have to fix it." The pain and anguish in his voice really cut through me.

All I could do was say a quick, silent prayer; then I witnessed to him. I told him God is in the reconciliation business. That's why He sent His Son -- when we were estranged from Him by our sins, Jesus Christ came to save us, to restore our relationship with God our Father. Jesus even took our guilt and sin on Himself and suffered in our place to turn away God's wrath from all we do to offend Him.

But Jesus wasn't only reconciling us to God. He was reconciling us to each other. I reminded him that God would keep working on his daughter and son-in-law's heart. I encouraged him to pray and read the Bible.

He didn't seem to be feeling any better when we parted, which made me wonder, and pray, what more could I have said? What more should I have said?

Saying or doing something that can't be undone can have some major consequences in this world. Even with honorable intentions, things backfire -- sometimes with both barrels.

Have you been on either side of a family estrangement? What advice would you give if your friend was this father? How about if your friend was his daughter or son-in-law?

You can give us your thoughts on the matter by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Life Creeps In

I follow a Twitter feed with the name "Funny School Answers." Some of the answers kids gave to questions in their homework and quizzes are very informative:

Q: There were four ghosts. Then one ghost flew away. How many ghosts are left?
A: "Zero, because ghosts are not real."

Q: Why are there rings on Saturn?
A: "Because God liked it, so He put a ring on it."
Teacher: "Saturn was not a single lady."

Q: Give a reason why people would want to live near power lines.
A: "You get your electricity faster."

Q: Who eats the most at a picnic: mosquitos or the dog?
A: "My Dad. He is chuby. He has a problum."

Apart from Saturn's rings and the electricity question, these answers show the students weren't considering these questions in a vacuum; they were weighing them against real life. It's like the old math question, "Twelve crows are on a wire and a farmer shoots three of them. How many are left on the wire?"

The mathematician says, "Nine."

But the farm kid who's seen it happen says, "Zero. Once you shoot the first one, the rest fly off."

When we share our faith with someone who has never heard of Jesus, or only vaguely knows about Him, we're not sitting in a theoretical classroom or in a vacuum. We're talking to people who already have a worldview, with their own ideas of how the system works, where it came from, and what life is all about.

Yesterday, I was driving home from work and the local talk radio station was having fun with the idea of humans and dinosaurs living together on earth. I happen to believe this did happen on account of the way Genesis 1 reads. Yet to one of these guys, in particular, that belief was of the utmost ignorance. But one after another, Christians kept calling to argue the point, and the guy got more and more convinced we were all fools.

The question that occurred to me was is this the right discussion to have with an unbeliever? I don't mind telling a Bible study group or youth confirmation class I believe in a young earth with God as its Creator. On the other hand, I'm not sure it's the most effective discussion to have with someone who takes for granted we are only here by chance, the earth is billions of years old, and there is no God.

I could well be wrong -- and please leave your comment below if you think I am -- but I find people are more open to our spiritual discussions when they touch on personal experience: i.e. the struggles they are having with life, rather than on great philosophical questions.

What type of discussions have you found particularly effective when you share your faith? What discussions have you learned to avoid?

You can let us know by clicking here and giving us your two cents.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How Doctors Die

I came across a thought-provoking question and answer on Quora yesterday: "What are some things that doctors know, but most people don't?" Answering that question was Dr. Joanna Bisgrove, a family physician: "The most important thing that doctors know and accept that most people don't is the limits of what medicine can do."

She discussed the public's mistaken notion that we don't have to take care of ourselves; doctors can always find a pill to make us better.

Then finally she wrote, "I recently read an article about how doctors die. Usually we die quietly, without much medical intervention. We have seen too many times families who, in the grips of fear, pray for a miracle and ask us to do 'everything.' What families don't understand is that often 'everything' merely gives their extremely ill loved one a prolonged, tortured death."

During my years as a parish pastor, I had my share of death bed visits and funerals. Each of those experiences, along with the death of my own parents and other loved ones, brought me face to face with my own death, which is coming sooner or later.

That might sound morbid -- something you don't want to think about. But Jesus Christ changed all that, didn't He? By His death and resurrection He removed the sting of death. Since He took my sins on Himself and destroyed them on the cross, I don't have to fear God's judgment when I die. His short rest in the borrowed tomb reminds me that my own burial will be temporary, followed by a glorious resurrection when He returns.

And that, in turn, puts the rest of my life's goals and objectives in a sharper, clearer, healthier perspective. Possessions and things I acquire and accumulate become less important. It's the people -- and the experiences -- of this life I need to treasure as I try to squeeze as much as I can into the years God grants me on this earth.

But that reminds me of another priority, which happens to coincide with my vocation here at Lutheran Hour Ministries. It is urgent to make as many people aware of God as possible. In a world that denies God's existence, that denies a coming day of judgment, along with our eternal future in heaven or hell, it is essential that I make as many people aware as possible, beginning with my family and friends.

Maybe your vocation doesn't do that directly. Perhaps your life's work is to sustain life and help hold this fallen world together. If so, do it with all your might because it pleases God and serves your neighbor. But don't neglect the opportunity God gives you to talk to others, to make them aware of their eternal destiny, so they too can face death with confidence and peace: the peace Jesus alone can bring.

Then when that last day of life looms near and our earthly work is done, Jesus Christ will be our comfort, support, hope, strength and our eternal rest.

That day's coming for all of us. May God find us ready when it does.

Care to tell us about any choice encounters you've had with the world of medicine or the death of a loved one? If so, you can do this by clicking here and letting us know what you think.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


When I was growing up I always admired Star Trek's Mr. Spock. I liked the way he was as strong as four men, the smartest guy in the room, and total master of his emotions. For a time I even thought he had the emotion thing right: just let cool reason bury them deep down where no one will ever find them-not even myself.

But I quickly learned that life without emotion is flat and boring. Imagine a stadium full of Vulcans watching a football game: no whooping and hollering-just the low buzz of people analyzing the last play and calculating the odds of an onside kick. Or how about sitting in a baseball stadium as the home team wins on a walk-off homerun-and the only emotional betrayal is the raising of one eyebrow. Emotions are what give life its zest and spice.

For football fans it was an exciting kick-off weekend for the NFL. There were some intriguing games with big surprises. There were also some great games where the lead changed back and forth, keeping fans on the edge of their seats.

But Spock was certainly right about one thing: emotions can easily go to extremes. If the Monday morning comments were to be believed, 16 teams are on the fast track to next year's Super Bowl (am I allowed to use that word without express permission from the NFL?), and 16 others should throw in the towel and pull for the top draft choice.

What will happen to those same fans when next weekend rolls around? How many hopes will be dashed? How many fans who are inconsolable today will be boasting about their team's fortunes after victories next weekend?

These emotional roller-coaster rides aren't only confined to sports. They extend to our relationships, our finances, our health, and nearly every other situation in life.

Many experiences and situations in life push us to emotional extremes, worry and fretting one moment, ecstatically triumphant the next. We end up insufferably proud, or intolerably gloomy.

Coaches try to teach their athletes to keep emotions in check, to not let a fast start cause them to take the opponent for granted, or let a bad one fill them with despair.

What effect do you think our emotional reactions have on our Christian witness? How can the quiet confidence of faith through Jesus' victory empower us to deliver a strong witness even when times are really bad and everything seems to be going against us?

Do you have any advice on how to keep your emotions in a healthy balance, so we can live in the peaceful, humble, confident and joyful attitude Jesus had?

In this world there's much to unsettle our faith and the confidence we know we have in Christ. How do we maintain the assurance of the victory God gives us, in the face of shifting moods and changing circumstances?

Tell us your thoughts by clicking here and letting us know what you think.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Life after Delivery

Here's an interesting thought I came across recently: in a mother's womb were two babies. One asked the other: "Do you believe in life after delivery?"

The other replied, "Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later."

"Nonsense," said the first. "There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?"

The second said, "I don't know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can't understand now."

The first replied, "That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded."

The second insisted, "Well, I think there is something and maybe it's different than it is here. Maybe we won't need this physical cord anymore."

The first replied, "Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere."

"Well, I don't know," said the second, "but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us."

The first replied "Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That's laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?"

The second said, "She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist."

Said the first: "Well, I don't see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn't exist."

To which the second replied, "Sometimes, when you're in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above."

Útmutató a Léleknek

It makes me think of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15:35-57, especially verses 35-38 and 42-44:

"But someone will ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?' You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as He has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. ... So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body."

Life after death. The older I get the more I realize the sobering truth that one day will be my last. It's quite amazing to think that there will be a day when I am no more -- at least no more in this world. While we live we seem immune to the idea of our lives coming to a complete end, but each day here is one day less that we have.

There are many who deny a life after death. When this life is over, that's it: lights out, the curtain drops, oblivion awaits.

Or so they say.

How do you suggest Christians reply to those who claim there is no life after death?

Tell us by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

In Season and out of Season

Did you ever put up Christmas decorations in late November or early December when it was still unseasonably warm outside? Do you find it hard to even think about decorating for Christmas in early September? I only bring this up because earlier this summer I was writing the Advent/Christmas devotions for Lutheran Hour Ministries, and it was pretty tough getting into the Christmas spirit when the thermostat's in the high 90s.

It did help to remember I'm not the only one working out of season though. Casts from our favorite TV programs are months out of season shooting Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes.

This all made me think about Paul's words to Timothy -- and to us, "Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season" (2 Timothy 4:2a). Like wiping sweat from your brow while you're writing about baby Jesus in the manger, there are certainly times and situations where it seems odd to bring up the subject of Jesus Christ with a friend, neighbor, family member, or co-worker. Maybe it just doesn't seem natural to the flow of the conversation, or maybe you've only recently patched together a friendship with someone you value. Or it could be you're afraid the mere mention of your relationship with Christ will cause you to lose the ground you've gained, and you'll be left in an awkward silence, wishing you hadn't said anything at all.

Probably the best thing to do is to take our lead from Jesus and the way He talked to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. He didn't jump in with the spiritual question: "What if you died tonight?" He started by asking her for a drink of water. But once they started talking He didn't sit back and let the conversation ramble along whatever course it would take. He was intentional. He looked for connections that could easily transition over to spiritual matters. It wasn't a huge stretch to shift their conversation from bodily thirst to spiritual thirst.

I think we can learn a lesson here. Good, faithful witnessing requires us to be attentive listeners. We have to really care about the people we are talking to, really want to get to know them. When we show genuine concern for them, a door quickly opens. And we don't have to spend the whole time listening for those connections. We just ask God to open our minds to hear and notice them when they arise.

Practice is always helpful. And where better to practice than at home with our families? Or how about when we're with a group at church? During our conversations we can hone our skills at making reasonable connections between worldly matters and spiritual things.

When talking to a Christian it might seem out of season to speak about spiritual things, even more so when we're talking to a person who does not yet know Jesus Christ. After all, there never seems to be a good time, does there?

God knows our reluctance to speak to others about Him. We should remember, however, that He has empowered us to be His mouthpieces in any and every circumstance -- no matter how tall the order might appear at the time.

Knowing that doesn't make it any easier, but it does encourage us to press on, sharing the Good News, whenever we can, wherever we can.

Do you have a witness tip or two to offer?

If so, you can do this by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Conquering Life's Hardships

How do you handle the hardships and setbacks you encounter in life? When you fight against constant opposition, nagging problems, and frequent hindrances do you find your encouragement and optimism drying up as pessimism and spiritual exhaustion takes their place?

I thought this week's broadcast of The Lutheran Hour proved really helpful. Rev. Gregory Seltz revisited a 1931 sermon from the first Lutheran Hour Speaker, Walter A. Maier:

"Remember,--and I am speaking especially to those of you who may feel in human bitterness that God has dealt unkindly with you, you who linger on weary beds of sickness, you whose life has brought one crushed hope after another, you who live on under the blight of some consuming sorrow that gnaws away incessantly at your happiness and peace of mind ..."

Who of us hasn't been there? Who hasn't experienced dark times when we wonder where God is -- and why He isn't stepping in to help us out. Dr. Maier reminds us it is precisely in those struggles that the Lord is at work in us and for us:

"... Remember that, if God is for you through Jesus Christ, all of these thwarted purposes and shattered hopes will only promote the growth of your inner life."

Then he gives us some perspective, some encouraging perspective:

"The purest gold is the metal that has been refined in the hottest flame. Steel that is tempered in the blazing crucible gains in strength and value. The diamond must be cut and ground and polished to sparkle in its fiery radiance. And in your own spiritual lives there must be conflict and resistance to strengthen your Christian character and to bring out those qualities which mark the victorious life that lives in Jesus."

I like that -- no, not the pain and suffering -- but the reminder that God has a purpose for permitting me to go through these tough times of life. I like to think of it like a spiritual workout.

When I drag my old body to the gym for a workout, that weight and resistance is breaking down my muscles so they can rebuild to be stronger than they were. I don't always get excited about going to the gym, but I always feel better afterwards.

In the same way, life's struggles and hardships break down my spirit and drive me to our Savior -- so He can rebuild me with more spiritual strength, power, perseverance -- and perspective.

Hardships and struggles in life aren't pleasant, but with the comfort, support and encouragement of God's Word we can push through and conquer them for Jesus' sake.

Fiery are the ordeals life can put us through. Do you know of someone close who's experienced something supremely difficult and emerged on the other end better because of it? Is that someone you?

If so, take a few minutes and let us know what the situation was -- and how it helped transform -- like purifying gold -- that person into someone more equipped to handle the challenges of life.

You can do this by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Rites of Passage

Tomorrow it will finally come -- the day I've both anticipated and dreaded for years. Tomorrow we take our son, our only child, off to college. Today we load up and head to Chicago. Tomorrow we move him into his dorm.

I anticipate it because I know we're putting him into good hands. We know two of the professors who will have the biggest part in molding him in the next four years, and we couldn't ask for better men of God. I'm ecstatic about his future and watching him stretch his wings and soar in the years to come. God's given him some incredible gifts, and I'm so very proud of the way he has been working earnestly to develop them. I can't wait to see the man he will become.

But deep in my heart I dread his leaving. I know he has to go: God's calling him, but I'm going to miss him too. Mom won't be the only one fighting back a tear on the long ride home tomorrow night.

I know I'm not the first dad who's been here, and I certainly won't be the last. But it's one of those moments in life where I have to stop and see the bigger picture, remembering the reason God placed him into our lives nearly 19 years ago.

Our Heavenly Father didn't give us this baby to nurture and shelter forever. He's here to find and fill his niche in his Creator's world. One day, Lord willing, he'll join his life with a wonderful woman of faith, and they'll raise a family of their own. Through his vocation I'm confident our Lord will touch many lives. After all, that's why He put him here.

That's why tomorrow is a huge rite of passage for him -- but not just for him -- for his father too. After all, that's why God put me here -- to be his support, and cheerleader, to share his excitement, and encourage his dreams. To keep him looking forward and striving to be all that God made him to be.

Life will certainly be different as we start the next chapter. But we know our Father will continue to faithfully provide all his needs; the blood of Jesus Christ will cover all his sins and failures, and the mighty Spirit will guard and strengthen his faith.

You know, tomorrow's looking like a pretty wonderful day!

College goodbyes are tough on parents -- and their kids. The world awaits these young people, but as parents we wish it wasn't quite so daunting and, definitely, not so far from home. Have you sent a son or daughter off to school? Have you found yourself grappling with emotions and a sense of loss at their departure? If so, share your thoughts for the many dads out there who might be going through the same thing, even this week.

You can do this by clicking here and telling us what you think.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Don't Try This at Home!

On Tuesday, July 21, two men jumped from St. Louis' Eads Bridge into the Mississippi River. They weren't depressed or suicidal; they weren't drunk or high. No, they described themselves as adrenaline junkies, who just wanted to jump off the bridge "for fun."

And they did have fun. A friend who stood watching said they made their jump at about 9:30 p.m., then quickly surfaced. "They were whooping and hollering, having the time of their life. They were like two little kids at Disneyland for the first time. They were having fun."

But they miscalculated the danger of their stunt. It wasn't the landing from the bridge that proved most deadly; it was the unpredictable power of the mighty Mississippi. Their bodies eventually washed ashore, one 35 miles south of St. Louis.

I like to watch America's Got Talent, but I wonder about the adrenaline junkies and daredevils who try out for the show. One contestant dove out of an airplane, waiting for the last possible instant before pulling his chute. Another jumped into an airbag from hundreds of feet in the air, on an aerial tower that was shaking violently in the wind. Still another sat in a car as it was rocked by explosives.

Each round that goes by, contestants look for ways to make their acts more dangerous -- more death-defying -- to keep their audience on the edge of its seat, holding its breath. And, of course, all the time, we are warned not to try this at home.

How reckless were you in your childhood? How long were you content to use the swings, merry-go-round, or slide the "safe" way? How about your bike, skateboard, pogo stick, or even your car? What is it about risks and danger that appeal to us?

And one last question before I open it up to you: how do you think God feels about these behaviors and the drive behind them? Does risk-taking reside only in our sinful natures -- or is there something intrinsically risky about faith as well?

Believing in God and living out your faith is risky in this world. Christ-followers are aliens here. Can you relate any times when living your faith made things awkward for you? Dangerous? If so, you can let us know by clicking here and sharing your thoughts with us.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Fishing for Men

We changed up our Men's NetWork fishing tournament this year. In the Lutheran Hour Ministries' spirit of equipping Christians to share their faith, we have been encouraging participants to take an unchurched buddy along when they go fishing. Our incentive includes three nice gift certificates for monthly stories that fit the bill. But it seems like it's harder than it sounds to ask an unchurched guy to go fishing.

Then we got the following submission from one of our faithful participants, John Nail:

"I have a story I'd like to share with you and request prayer for this young man. I know this does not qualify for anything, and I'm certainly OK with that. Our God is an awesome God and desires that none should perish.

"My wife (Sherlyn) and I camped at a Missouri State Park just 20 miles from our home. A get-away before school things take over my life. After having some friends stop by to eat and chat on Friday night, we had a relaxing day Saturday. Going to church at 5:30 p.m. and then back to the park.

"I arose at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday morning and biked down to the little lake in the park. Caught a few fish. My thoughts were on the LHM men's fishing contest and how they are working at getting fishermen to think about inviting a neighbor or co-worker along. I remember praying, 'Lord, help me remember to think about asking someone to go fishing that is not in our church family and doesn't have a church home.' I know very few outside the circle of church and school families. It seems like a logical excuse. The Lord understands. I get back to the campsite and clean up the catfish and crappie I had caught, and my wife and I were thinking of taking a bike ride as soon as we ate breakfast. It was 10 a.m. and we had not eaten.

"As we finished cleaning up after breakfast, we had a young man, named Ryan, stop by with a display of bugs mounted in a display case. He worked summers for the State Parks Department and wondered if he could show them to us. We, being active learners, agreed, and he proceeded to tell us about several of the specimens.

"We discovered he was from our home town and knew one of the families very well that had a child in our Lutheran school. He said he was working on his masters in biology. We were discussing, very politely, the differences in evolution and creation theories. He soon disclosed his father was a Lutheran, and he had graduated from a Catholic high school, but he would have to call himself an agnostic. The college professors made sense to him that we have a spirit, but it is a form of energy, and it cannot be created or destroyed (first law of thermodynamics). When we die, he believed, we just become part of the great cosmos energy field.

"The conversation then shifted to faith issues and the two world views. The God-less world view (evolution) and the Creator God world view (creation). We spent several minutes on the faith issue. Ryan made a comment about how there were so many translations how do you know which one to believe. I assured him the original languages had not changed since they were 'dead' languages. Our language changes frequently and so translations keep coming to try to explain the original languages.

"Since my wife and I had visited Petersburg, Kentucky, earlier this summer (Creation Museum) she had a pamphlet about the Bible that she offered Ryan. He thanked us for the cordial conversation and asked what time the services were at our church. We told him, and told him he would be welcome.

"I was amazed that here we were in a state park on Sunday with virtually all the weekend campers already gone or packing up to leave, and we get a visit from a young man from our home town who knew about our school and who engages us in a spiritual conversation.

"Our God truly does not want any to perish.

"We need to keep our eyes and ears open whether we are fishing or not and whether it is intentional or not. He is the One using us. To Him belongs the glory and honor!"

John Nail

John didn't think he was going to win. After all, he hadn't asked this guy to go fishing with him; he wasn't even in the process of fishing when he shared his faith with the young man in question. But this is exactly what this season's twist is all about. Look at the passions in your life: fishing, camping, sports, the arts, collecting stamps, whatever. It's like John said. If we keep our eyes open, chances are strong to great we'll see opportunities where God is opening doors for us to share our faith.

Reaching out to somebody else with the Good News God has given us is a surprisingly difficult thing sometimes. Do you have any anecdotes to relate when you've spoken to others about God or, perhaps, invited somebody to church? If so, do tell. You can let us know by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Things Left Unsaid

When reading through the Gospels, it's striking how few words are used to describe Jesus' actual physical sufferings. The brutal flogging and savage nailing to the cross are both mentioned only in passing, as the evangelist (Gospel-writer) moves toward his main point:

"Then he (Pilate) released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered Him to be crucified" (Matthew 27:26).

"And when they had crucified Him, they divided His garments among them by casting lots" (Matthew 27:35).

I often wondered why Jesus' physical sufferings weren't described in more detail. Why don't we see the things we read in a doctor's analysis of flogging and crucifixion, or what we see in Mel Gibson's, The Passion of the Christ?

Then I came across the following question on Quora: What are some of the war secrets or experiences soldiers don't want to talk about after getting back from a war?

The answer was striking: "My father was in Korea and never talked about anything related to combat that involved him. Any war stories he told that were combat-related started with, 'I knew this guy ....' My father was a tough man, ex-boxer, and I never saw him cry while growing up, even when his mother died.

"When I joined the military while still in high school, on delayed enlistment, he wasn't pleased, but he did say, 'It's better than being drafted.' When I later volunteered for duty in Vietnam he was furious, and we never talked about it when I returned, which suited me since I didn't want to talk about it. There were awkward silences between us when something would be on TV about Vietnam, especially when it fell.

"Then one day we went saltwater fishing with my cousin. We all had some beer, and things were light and easy. My cousin and I were fishing off the back of the boat, and my dad off the side. Maybe it was the beer, maybe it was because I'd always been at ease with my cousin, but when he asked me if I'd seen anything really bad over there I told him something I will never mention again.

"I didn't figure out till sometime later my dad must have asked him to get me to open up and that he was listening intently while turned the other way, pretending to be focused on fishing.

"Anyway, after a long silence, my cousin said, 'Well, at least you didn't die over there.'

"And I said, 'Yes, I did.'

"When I looked around, I saw my father's shoulders moving; I could tell the man I'd never seen cry before was crying now."

Could this man's reply explain in part why the Bible focuses on what Jesus accomplished by His agony, sufferings and sacrifice and not on the sufferings themselves? Was it because He was thinking of the people who love Him?

Do you have any thoughts on the matter? You can share them with us by clicking here and passing them along.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

End of an Era

I have to cross one vacation destination off my bucket list. Last Wednesday the FAO Schwarz toy store in New York closed for good. It was the oldest toy store in the country. You can see it in movies like Tom Hanks' Big; Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite; and the movie, The Smurfs.

I never went there and I know I never would have built a vacation around it, but if I had happened to find myself in New York City with an extra hour or so, I think it would have been fun to stop by.

It's a little like watching A Christmas Story; it takes me back to a nostalgic time when the thought of spending hours in a huge store filled with nothing but toys was a boy's dream.

That got me thinking. What was my favorite toy from my childhood? I had a bunch of good ones. There was the G.I. Joe with the brown beard, orange jumpsuit, and manly scar on his right cheek.

That guy went everywhere and did everything, including being drug behind my bike on a rope. But still, through all that, he never revealed his secrets to his captors.

One year for Christmas I got the Airfix Super Flight Deck with Power Launcher. That' right. I was livin' the dream.

It was an aircraft carrier with a joystick with a long fishing line attached to its deck. The other end of the line was attached to a pole that clamped onto a piece of furniture across the room. You launched your plane with a rubber band-powered catapult (Warning: "THE LAUNCHING CATAPULT IS VERY POWERFUL AND SHOULD NOT BE RELEASED UNLESS THE AIRCRAFT IS IN POSITION. KEEP FINGERS AWAY FROM THE CATAPULT.")

It flew up the line, slowed and spun around, then came back down the line toward the carrier, picking up speed as it descended. You had to have a pretty steady hand on the joystick to bring it in for the perfect landing on the deck.

Probably my favorite toy was one I got on vacation when I was eight or nine. It was a plastic, battery-powered boat: a Boaterific -- the "Atlas" Harbour Tug. It came complete with a lighthouse and string.

The next day I ran down to the beach, put the lighthouse on a mound of sand, then dug a circular moat that filled with water from the lake. I watched the boat go round and round and thought that was the most fantastic thing in the world.

It had a simple rudder to turn it to port or starboard or steer dead ahead. It even had a bailer that would shoot water out of the stern. It really looked cool back home when I used the bubble bath in the tub. Alas, that sweet boat is long gone.

But it makes me think of the little stool in the corner of the bathroom of the cottage on Lake Erie where we spent one weekend every summer. It said, "The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys."

I guess I didn't really outgrow the thrill of my boyhood. I just directed it to other places: my family, my hobbies, and my faith.

What was your favorite childhood toy? Think hard. Did you have one that stands head and shoulders above the rest? Did you have (do you still have) a collection of any kind: Matchbox cars? G.I. Joes? A train set? HO-scale slot cars?

You can enlighten us on what was cool back when you were a kid by clicking here and giving us the update.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Thoughts about the Younger Generation

When I was in my teens and twenties I got fed up hearing the older generation say, "The problem with young people today is ...."

I'll admit, some of our choices weren't all that great. In fact, many of them went straight against God's clearly revealed will. My generation (I'm at the tail end of the Boomers) really pressed the envelope on sexual promiscuity, drugs, abortion, and many other self-destructive behaviors that are drowning our culture now.

But we did some things right too.

I told myself when I grew up I would never be like that. I wouldn't talk badly about the next generation, but I would look for the value in them, what they had to contribute.

But now I find myself harboring those same thoughts and feelings -- that same animosity toward Millennials that the older generation held toward us 20 or 30 years ago. I am appalled at their rejection of absolute truth. I especially get irritated when I hear Christians espousing relative truth, especially when the Bible shows us an eternal God who never changes, and who tells us not one dot or one tittle will pass from His Law. That Law will be the basis of Jesus' judgment on the Last Day. When God says certain things are wrong and certain things are right, they just are!

I am troubled by the way Millennials celebrated the SCOTUS decision protecting gay marriage. It's like they bend over backward to not hurt someone's feelings. That's okay, I guess, but what if that someone is doing something that goes against God's ways? When you try hard not to judge or hurt someone's feelings, aren't you empowering them to continue following those moral choices that drive them further and further from God? It breeds a false sense of security that can easily keep them from repentance, faith and obedience -- hardly sounds like love to me.

What need is there for a Savior if every lifestyle is valid? Salvation is pointless if there is no sin to be saved from?

But I'm not here to write about the Millennials; I'm writing about me. I don't like the pessimism I see inside myself. Doesn't this new generation have something to offer -- a balance our generation desperately needs?

In my day, back in high school, all the kids grouped into basic categories: jocks, musicians, nerds and druggies. If you fit into one of those groups, you had a "family" of sorts. But then there were still plenty of misfit kids who fell outside those groups. The only group in my school that accepted them was the druggies; we called them "freaks." To my shame, I must admit they were often more of a family than my group of friends, who were quick to label and condemn. While the druggies would welcome the misfits with open arms, giving them a sense of worth, of belonging -- we just sat there laughing at them.

But among the Millennials I see a strong sense of acceptance for those who are different. Sure, at times I'm convinced they go too far. As a result, the impression is given that God's fine with any lifestyle, no matter what.

But then again, how did Jesus look to the respectable people of His day? When He found people who were different or struggling in error, He didn't avoid them, categorize, or condemn them. Instead, He ate meals with them and generously gave them His time, seeking to lead them to repentance and teach them about God's timeless, changeless mercy, love and forgiveness.

He loved them.

What can I learn from Millennials? I need to pray for God to give me genuine love and concern for those who are walking on a self-destructive path. I need His wisdom to confront them -- not with self-righteous hatred and pride -- but with a genuine concern and compassion for a creature of God who urgently needs the salvation Jesus offers -- the same salvation I so desperately need.

Looks like I have a lot to learn from Millennials, after all.

In this world it's easy to categorize and write off those people who are different from us or who espouse attitudes or preferences hard for us to digest. What can we do to bridge these gaps in our society? How can we convey a sense of love and concern for others, especially when they get under our skin?

It's not easy.

Any ideas you have to make cross-generational communication easier are welcome. You can share them with us by clicking here and passing them along.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


My cousin pulled some pretty weird and stupid stunts when I was young. He'd carry a bicycle up into the hay loft in my uncle's barn, and ride through an obstacle course of hay bales and 4x4 holes that my uncle used to drop hay down through to the cattle stalls below. Then he'd pedal full speed and plunge over the edge. While the bike crashed down onto the concrete floor below, he dove for an overhead wooden beam, swinging back to the hayloft floor like nothing happened. Everybody else laughed and slapped my cousin on the back, but I always pictured his broken body, crumpled on the ground, beside the mangled bike.

We seem to be born with that daredevil spirit. Just watch kids on a playground; they soon get bored riding a merry-go-round the right way, or swinging on a swing. Sooner or later they start flinging themselves off the swing, or running inside the merry-go-round. One little trip and they could break a bone -- or get a good smack on the back of the head -- but who cares? You only live once!

A man in Orange, Texas, decided to take a nighttime swim in a private marina along a bayou in southeastern Texas. Signs were posted on the dock warning of an alligator, which had been spotted swimming around the pier. But warnings were not going to slow him down. He dismissed the sign with a curse, jumped into the water, and disappeared a few minutes later when the alligator pulled him under. His body was recovered after a few hours.

New York Giant defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was lighting fireworks on the Fourth of July. One blew up in, or close to, his hand and injured several of his fingers. This was quite a risk to take in an offseason when he's trying to negotiate a huge contract with the Giants.

Speaking of fireworks, a 22-year-old man in Calais, Maine, thought it would be cool to launch a mortar tube from his head. His friends gathered around him and thought they had talked him out of it. Instead, they watched him ignite the firework and die instantly.

Maybe you can see a little of your own reckless spirit in these stories. If so, it might not be a bad time to stop and say a quick thank-you prayer to God and your guardian angel.

I guess that's what scientists mean when they say the risk-assessment part of our brain isn't fully formed until we're well into our 20s.

But just because we've reached or passed our mid-20s doesn't mean we stop taking big risks. We risk our health for the sake of drinking, smoking, under-exercising, overeating, and under-sleeping. We risk our financial security by under-investing in our retirement and over-spending in the present. We risk our families and marriages for the sake of Internet porn or chat rooms, messages and Internet affairs.

Even worse, we risk our eternal salvation. The stakes are massive: a wonderful, thrilling, fulfilling eternity in God's presence, or relentless agony, regret, grief, and sorrow in hell.

But it's a lot more thrilling to spend the weekend in a campground, out on a lake, on a golf course, or in some other amusement, than take an hour and sit in a pew on Sunday morning or Saturday night. Why get up early to let the Holy Spirit make us wise unto salvation through Bible study, or arm ourselves with Jesus' body and blood -- when we could be catching up on lost sleep?

Spiritual risk-taking is one of the greatest dangers we face. For Adam and Eve it was a forbidden fruit; for Israel it was their curiosity in how the nations around them worshipped other gods; for us it might be the smorgasbord of world religions that we can sample and taste for ourselves. Maybe it's paganism, nature religions, or the occult. But the end result's the same -- guilt, sorrow and profound loss -- possibly eternal.

Thank God there's still time. Jesus has taken the punishment for our failings and turned away God's wrath. As long as we draw breath, it's not too late for His Spirit to bring us back to repentance and faith. But the end is coming. It's time to grow up, assess the risks, and realize the tremendous gifts we may be on the verge of throwing away, for the sake of a cheap thrill today.

What are some stupid risks you took as a kid? What are some risky spiritual activities you see people engage in today? How can you help them recognize these risks and see the wondrous things they're missing?

Growing up, we all do silly things. Some may leave us black and blue; others may leave us in worse shape. Got anything from your Evil Knievel past you care to forget -- or brag about? If so, you can click here and give us all the gory details.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Forever in the Cloud

When we were kids we all did stupid things, said thoughtless things -- things that have long since disappeared without a trace: gone and forgotten.

Not so today.

Kids are still kids. They think, say and do stupid stuff. The trouble today is they do it on social media. They sit behind a screen, a tablet, or a cell phone -- not looking someone in the eye -- and say what's on their minds. When you feel anonymous, it's easy to be blunt, especially when the message disappears from the screen the moment you hit the "send" button.

The trouble is you can't retrieve the stuff you send, and it lurks forever in the Cloud -- that ever-expanding, offsite, out-there-somewhere, mega-warehouse for data storage.

That haunting truth came home to three guys chosen in the NBA draft last week:

Back in 2011 Bobby Portis cursed Derek Rose on Twitter; last week he was drafted by the Bulls and gets to play alongside Derek Rose.

Some time ago, Frank Kaminsky messaged that he decided to stay in college one more year because he'd rather play in front of some 17,000 Wisconsin Badgers fans, rather than end up on an NBA team like the Bobcats, which gets hardly any fans, and it looks flat-out boring. Sure enough, he was drafted by the Hornets. By the way, they were called the Bobcats when Kaminsky sent that tweet.

In May 2012, Larry Nance, Jr. tweeted, "Gee, I sure hope Kobe can keep his hands to himself in Denver this time. #Rapist" You can imagine the uproar when he was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers and reporters found that tweet.

So, what about our kids? Have you had that talk? You know, it's the chat where you tell them that employers are increasingly asking for access to Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts before hiring. It's the chat where you try to get them to understand there isn't an employer out there that wants a public relations nightmare from someone they've hired.

God has given your children unique gifts and talents, which He wants them to use for the benefit of society and the glory of His Name. A potentially rich and fulfilling life awaits them, that is, unless a few careless words on social media slam shut doors that otherwise would have been open to promising opportunities.

Your son's or daughter's future career options may well be at stake.

How can we help protect our kids' futures from themselves?

Do you have any insights to share on this one? This is an area where we can all use a little help. If you have something worthwhile to pass along, please click here and tell us about it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

God's Second-Greatest Gift to Humanity

After a movie ends most people head off to the exits. Do you ever stick around to watch the credits? I started doing this after watching the Star Wars movies, after they first came out. No, I didn't stick around because I was dying of curiosity to know who the grip and the gaffer were.

I stayed because I wanted to hear that amazing movie music one last time.

From the very first scene in the movie, that incredible music caught my attention. When I heard that thrilling theme resume at the close of the movie, I had to hang around and enjoy it again -- and see who the composer was. That's the first time I became acquainted with John Williams.

Monday we lost another great movie music composer: James Horner. The two-time Oscar award- winning composer died at the age of 61 when his small plane crashed near Santa Barbara, California. The list of movies he composed music for is quite impressive: Titanic, Braveheart, Avatar, Star Trek II, An American Tail, A Beautiful Mind, Field of Dreams, Legends of the Fall, Enemy at the Gates, Aliens, Glory, and one of my favorites, Apollo 13.

The list goes on and on.

When you take a great movie and wed it with the right music, the effect is magical. The music taps into our heart and soul, stirs our emotions, and draws us into the plight of the characters on the screen before us.

Martin Luther thought highly of music as well. "Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world." And undoubtedly recalling the great psalmist David playing the lyre to calm King Saul's tortured mind, Luther wrote, "Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us."

In my opinion, God's greatest gift to us is His Word, in which we learn of the glorious salvation Jesus won for us, and through which the Holy Spirit works saving faith in us. But I think music is His second gift, especially when the words and promises of God are set within beautiful, powerful, inspiring music.

It is that marriage between Word and music which makes Christian hymns, carols and songs come alive. Pass that music through the filter of life -- all its highs and lows, its gains and losses, its pleasures and pains -- and Christian music takes on a depth, grandeur and awe I sometimes find overwhelming. Certain hymns remind me of my dear departed mother and father; others recall joyous moments from childhood; others we chose for our wedding, but since have taken on new meaning and depth as we have passed through the years together; still others are connected to my son.

Sometimes the emotions they stir in me are too strong to control: my voice quivers, breaks and finally falls silent in prayer and adoration before my God and Father. But music always snaps me out of my earth-bound trance and draws my soul up to heaven where God's glory and radiance shimmer and shine.

What is your favorite song, carol or hymn?

You can click here and tell us about it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Taking Responsibility

Have you ever seen the Citicorp Center in New York City? The architect, Hugh Stubbins, Jr., had a daunting challenge: how could he fit a 59-floor skyscraper onto a small plot of ground, which already hosted St. Peter's Lutheran Church, an historic edifice sitting squarely where one corner of the building was to go? Stubbins' elegant solution was to raise the new building high above the church on nine-story tall columns.

But an architect's dream is an engineer's nightmare. The architect designs the building, but the engineer has to make it work. William J. LeMessurier, the famous structural engineer, first sketched his plans on a napkin in a Greek restaurant in Cambridge. He went on to design a system of strong wind braces that would form the skeleton of the building.

The building was erected in 1977. In June of 1978 he received a random call from an architectural student. Something in the call nagged at him. He reexamined his calculations and realized the building's sensitivity to quartering winds (those that strike the corners of the building) had been miscalculated. He dug a little deeper and learned the construction team had decided to bolt the braces together rather than weld them as the design had specified; this, consequently, formed a much weaker joint.

After careful calculations, these two details led LeMessurier to conclude the weakest joint in the structure was on the 30th floor. A storm of sufficient strength would send the building down in a catastrophic collapse. But how often could New York City expect to see such a freak storm?

The engineer consulted historic weather reports for New York City. He calculated that on average, such storms struck the city every 16 years.

Now the tough question: what would you do? The building is occupied and in use, and your reputation is on the line.

LeMessurier considered several options. He could be silent -- betting people's lives against the odds. But there were too many lives at stake. He also briefly contemplated suicide, but considered that a coward's way out. He later recalled, "I had information that nobody else in the world had. I had power in my hands to affect extraordinary events that only I could initiate. I mean, 16 years to failure -- that was very simple, very clear cut. I almost said, thank you, dear Lord, for making this problem so sharply defined that there's no choice to make."

Working with other architects, the president of Citicorp, and the City of New York, he oversaw the fortification of the building over a period of several months. An impeding storm during that period nearly forced an evacuation of the entire building, which would have been a PR nightmare, but the repairs were completed without incident.

Here is a man who put the concerns of others ahead of his own. He did the right thing even though it could have cost him everything.

What is a tough decision you've had to make?

Life's full of them.

Take a minute, click here, and tell us about a difficult decision you have been faced with.